Israel should not have gone to war against Hizbullah and the IDF was unprepared to fight, Vice Premier and Minister of Negev and Galilee Affairs Shimon Peres told the Winograd Committee during testimony on November 7, 2006. The protocol of Peres's testimony before the committee was published on Thursday, along with those of former OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Malka and the head of Melah (Economy in Time of Emergency), Brig.-Gen. Arnon Ben-Ami.
Court orders Winograd to release protocols now
Analysis: Peres sings a requiem for himself
Malka blamed the army for persuading Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to believe it could achieve the war aims the prime minister subsequently declared. Ben-Ami defended the government's decision not to declare an economic time of emergency during the war.
The three protocols, parts of which were censored, were the first to be published by the committee following a ruling by the High Court of Justice on February 6, and restated in stronger terms in a second ruling handed down Thursday morning.
"If it had been up to me, I wouldn't have gone into this war," Peres told the Winograd Committee.
Peres also said the army was exhausted by the war against Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
"I think the army was tired when it went into the war, because it was embroiled in a war that is not war," he said, referring to a war against terrorist groups. "There was neither glory nor victories in this war. It was an effort to prevent a disaster. That is exhausting." One should think "a thousand times" before going into war and should not be swept into it, he added.
Peres was asked what changes he would make in the government's decision-making process before and during the war. He was a member of the seven-minister inner security cabinet that officially made decisions regarding the fighting.
Peres indicated that before issues were presented to the committee, they had already been decided between Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
"The methodology that I would recommend is that the IDF should present its proposals directly to the seven ministers," he said. "The reason for this is that if there are prior consultations [by the army] with the prime minister and the defense minister, the effectiveness of the larger meeting diminishes. These are the two determining men, also in view of the composition of the coalition, and if they already know what they want in advance, it is very difficult to make them change their minds. They are already locked in."
Peres also indicated that it wasn't necessarily the army that had pressured Olmert and Peretz into taking militant positions.
"I want to say that from my experience with military men, many of them are very cautious," he said. "It is not true they all push for war over every silly thing. What happened after these discussions [between the army, Olmert and Peretz], how things evolved, I didn't always know, and there was also a limit to the extent I could intervene."
The Prime Minister's Office had no response to Peres's testimony. One official said the PMO's strategy was not to respond to the Winograd testimony.
Malka criticized the decision-making process that led to the war, saying Olmert was led by the IDF to believe that the military could meet his high expectations during the war.
"I think that there was no one next to the prime minister who was really close to him and was sitting and thinking up strategic alternatives and telling him to lower the level of his declarations, since he was raising them to a level that the IDF was unable to meet," he told the committee.
Malka, who was OC Military Intelligence from 1998 until 2001, including the period Israel withdrew from Lebanon, also slammed the government for not properly utilizing the National Security Council (NSC) as a body that could be consulted with regarding defense-related issues.
"The NSC doesn't even exist today, except on paper," he said. "For four years I sat at cabinet meetings and never saw the head of the NSC at the table, just on the back benches."
Before the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the IDF "anticipated" Hizbullah's mass armament, Malka said. During the withdrawal, the IDF knew of thousands of rockets in Hizbullah hands, he said.
"We knew and predicted that Hizbullah would bring Katyushas to south of the Litani River," he said. "This was clear. Also that Hizbullah would come all the way down to the border fence."
Malka said non-stop, anti-terrorism operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over the past six years had turned the IDF's attention away from the growing threat in Lebanon.
The way the IDF operated in the first few weeks of the war - by sending small groups of soldiers into enemy territory while the brigade commanders stayed behind overseeing the operations from command posts - was the way operations were conducted in the territories, but not appropriate for Lebanon.
"In my opinion, there was a problem with the conception and with the type of conflict we thought we were in," he said, adding that he would have launched a one-week to two-week operation and then used a cease-fire to stop the Katyusha fire.
Olmert, Peretz and Halutz did not understand the effect 200 daily rocket attacks had on a country, Malka said.
"I don't think enough thought was given in the beginning to the influence the Katyushas have on the public and the world," he said. "The IDF tried to market its strategic achievements, but they didn't speak to the public."
Malka said Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's speech in Bint Jbail following the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 was "deeply absorbed" by other Middle Eastern countries, far more than the message prime minister Ehud Barak tried to convey regarding the quick withdrawal. The speech served as "fuel" for the Palestinians who launched the second intifada a few months later, he said.
"The Arab world heard the speech and understood that Israel was chased out of Lebanon and did not leave on its own initiative," Malka said. "This was a victory for guerrilla [warfare], for terrorism, for jihad and for ideology - that it is possible to defeat Israel."
Ben-Ami, in his testimony, defended the government's decision not to activate Melah on a national level. He said Melah had three functions: to guarantee the supply of vital services and commodities for the civilian population and the army; to prepare the local authorities to cope with emergencies; and to arrange for the evacuation of civilians from an emergency zone.
Ben-Ami said he had maintained all along that there was no need for Melah in the war.
"I advised the minister of defense, as a professional opinion throughout the war, that I saw no reason to put Melah into operation," he said. "Doing so would give us nothing once the government declared a 'special situation' for the home front on July 15."
Ben-Ami said he had pushed for that declaration because it enabled the government to order vital workers to remain at their jobs or face punishment. This move was what guaranteed the supply of goods and services to the civilian population throughout the war, he said.
Ben-Ami said the local authorities, not Melah, had been responsible for the distribution of goods and services to their residents during the emergency. Melah's role had been to prepare the local authorities during peacetime for the duties they were responsible for in times of emergency, he said.
Ben-Ami said Melah had emergency stores of food and other supplies, but they were only to be used if the emergency created shortages. There had been no shortages during the war, he said.
Ben-Ami said the use of Melah would have not contributed anything, except perhaps in the psychological realm.
"What would have happened if they had declared a Melah regime in the North?" he asked rhetorically. "My people would have continued to work [as they had before the declaration], we already had the work restraining orders because of the 'special situation,' and we were not lacking any supplies. It wouldn't have contributed a thing."
Ben-Ami said Melah had developed two evacuation plans. One plan, for the evacuation of 180,000 people into schools and other public buildings all over the country, had been only for a situation of total war, he said.
The other plan, for evacuating 25,000 people from the North as a result of the experiences in Operation Grapes of Wrath, had been in place and involved contracts with hotels and inns in conjunction with four government ministries. Ultimately, the government did not declare a formal evacuation of civilians and the plan was not put into effect, he said.
Ben-Ami said hotels and inns, with which arrangements had been made, had been occupied by civilians from the North who evacuated themselves.
Kadima MKs Ronit Tirosh and Otniel Schneller said they disagreed with Peres and felt the war had been necessary.
"I am glad we went to war," Schneller said. He said he believed it had been a necessary action to improve security along the Lebanese border.
Tirosh said the mistakes associated with the war had been years in the making and were not limited to Olmert or Peretz.
She said the war had given the army an opportunity to strengthen itself in advance of any further engagement. It could have been much worse if the military flaws had been revealed only within a larger and more critical engagement, she added.
Tovah Lazaroff and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.